In one form or another be it Marvel, Star Trek, Star Wars or even many book series out there, we see writers wanting to change things and thus creates an alternate universe where they can explore things if they’d happen differently. Some do it better than others… Let me explain.

I’ve seen two ways of doing this:
1. Making one or two minor changes in an established plot and showing how those minor changes altered the destinies of those affected by them, if not everyone in general.

2. Drastically altering the universe with very little explanation, rhyme or reason, using the excuse that it’s an alternate universe so they can do whatever they want.

Quite obviously (to me anyway) #1 is the better way of doing this.
Let’s take two examples of this; Marvel’s ‘What if’ series explores what would have happened if one of two things that could have happened, actually had happened and explores the consequences. Maybe the X-Men were slaughtered in a mission they actually won. Who then carries on their legacy?

Star Wars Infinities is one of the most interesting series that I’ve ever read. It takes the established Star Wars Universe in the Lucas films and makes one little change, in the case of the Return of the Jedi issue, it was a very minor change, C3PO unable to get back up after being knocked over by Jabba. This set into motion events that played out quite differently from the original plot line. Is it a better plot, worse? That’s not for me to say. I won’t spoil these for anyone given how excellent a read they are, but the Infinities are extremely well done and are a shining example of how one small move, one little decision can shape the world and alter the destinies of everyone around.

Now… let’s look at the other example… if we must…

If it’s not obvious by now, it should be; I’m a comic book geek. Yeah, I admit it and I’m damn proud of it. Unfortunately, the second example above is the direction many comic books have been taking lately.
Ironically, given my first example, Marvel has become a serious perpetrator of this and for the most part, it’s been essentially tokenism and pandering to the PC crowd under the guise of becoming more diverse.
Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: I love diversity. I love hearing and/or reading about other peoples’ experiences in far off lands, or different walks of life and I like to try to understand how people come to different conclusions of what’s right and wrong, socially acceptable and not socially acceptable. However there is a far cry between this and what writers like those at Marvel are doing.
I still enjoy Captain America with someone else holding the shield and Thor being a woman, because it’s explained well. It works and it all comes together. However when you make one character gay with no explanation (Colossus), or randomly change a character’s race (Nick Fury, Psylocke, and Spider-man), and do so with little explanation simply using the ‘Alternate Universe’ defense for poor storytelling, that’s where problems arise. It’s at this point that the pandering and blatant tokenism becomes obvious. For me, it was when they took arguably the most diverse team in comic book history,  a team that has literally had members from almost everywhere on the planet and actually dealt with bigotry and hatred, and made that team all women. Essentially, they took the X-Men, THE most diverse team and made it less diverse in the name of diversity. How does that even make sense?

Well it doesn’t, but it’s an alternate universe. It doesn’t have to make sense because in an alternate reality, anything can happen!

Sigh… do you see the problem? I don’t care what universe we’re talking about, bad storytelling is bad storytelling and blatant pandering to the PC crowd is usually pretty easy to spot.

So I’m sure someone is going to ask, “How then would you create more diversity?”

To be honest, at the risk of going off on a tangent, I never really thought Marvel needed to create more. Dating back to the 1970s, I thought they were doing a pretty good job of it… but if I were forced…

Basically the story writers during the time of Chris Claremont and John Byrne, Marvel began taking a new direction. The Phoenix saga was meant to end the old X-Men as they were known. Angel and Iceman were off forming their own teams, Beast was an Avenger, Phoenix sacrificed herself to save the X-Men, and Cyclops retired, met a woman and married her. The idea was that, over time, they’d retire older members to occasional cameo appearances and bring all new ones. We see the beginnings of this with Kitty Pryde coming in to replace Phoenix. So instead of haplessly changing characters’ identities with no real explanation or creating alternate realities that stretch the suspension of disbelief (which for comic readers is hard to do) I’d green light this long-dead idea and bring in all new characters with all new stories from different walks of life instead of retelling old tales with slightly altered characters that are barely pale comparisons to the ones we know and love. Using the fact that it’s not the ‘prime’ universe to escape responsibility for poor story telling.

Anyway, do you agree or disagree? Let me know why!

Thanks friends,
Catch you on the flip side!

8 Comments on “The ‘Alternate Universe’ Excuse

  1. I don’t think that Marvel DC or the others suffers from lack of characters to work with. If anything, my best loved characters suffer from the sexism in the industry; worsened by the fact so few women get a chance to write and direct. Look at Starting in the DC relaunch a few years back, or how differently DC has treated the Wonder Woman movie from it’s other, as if a female MC won’t make big bucks.

    Women do buy comics and see movies. It is patronising to give the alternate universe as the only place where characters sexuality/gender/ethnicity can be explored. For many characters, the complexity of their story would mean that those issues are secondary. Wonder Woman is about justice. That doesn’t have to be gendered as an angry girl thing (Elektra….ooof) just as making a character gay doesn’t have to hijack their mission and story.

    comics and movies are made on the premises that men will only see stories about men. Women will see mens stories but men don’t care for stories without men in them. Alison Bechtel, a comic writer herself, wrote about this and her Bechtel test is still relevant. Whedon is a great spokesman for this inclusive approach.


    • I agree, and honestly, you should take a look at the new Batgirl, it’s pretty impressive in the new direction it’s taken. New (Non-spandex) costume, a more independent story, etc. etc.
      My issue comes with the back asswards things Marvel has done like with the X-Men. Arguably, the X-Men had the largest female membership of any team:
      Polaris (occasionally)
      Kitty Pryde
      Emma Frost
      Madalyne Pryor
      But then they also had characters from several ethnicity and walks of life. To take that team and reduce it to one gender is taking a step backwards. X-Men was never exclusive and was never meant to be. That’s where my issue comes in.


      • I share your view in that tokenism doesn’t address the issue and it takes something from a universe of characters that with a bit of investment from writers who can write the diverse aspects of all people, can do good things with what they have.


  2. I’m not a comic book reader, but I have seen about this in regards to films and books. I agree with what you’ve said. There is such a thing as going overboard on the PC front. I think it would put me off a series if suddenly a character was different, for no obvious reason at all. I like the idea about changing the X-Men throughout the years, bringing in new characters, and allowing new faces to represent new times/generations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Can’t We All Just Enjoy Star Wars? | The Creative Works of James Harrington

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